9 Major Differences between Thailand Thai Food and American Thai Food

By Mark Wiens 87 Comments
Thailand Thai Food vs. American Thai Food
Thailand Thai Food vs. American Thai Food

I was in Thailand for nearly 3 years before ever coming back to the United States.

I eat loads of Thai food in Thailand. And I LOVE it.

Upon returning the US for a quick few weeks visit, I noticed that Thai food is quite popular in America now. Nearly all neighborhoods have their very own “Thai Basil” or “Siam” restaurant at the nearest strip mall.

Many Thai restaurants in America are even owned and operated by real authentic Thais…

… but Thailand Thai food is different from American Thai food.

Not only are there differences in the ingredients or what’s available, Thai restaurants (despite attempting to remain authentic sometimes) simply have to adapt and then abide by to American style and taste.

Unfortunately, a lot of the strategies for predicting an outstanding Thai restaurant (before ever eating there) are useless in America – largely due to regulations.

Here are 9 major differences I noticed while sampling American Thai food:

Of course, I could break down the differences between each and every dish (like pad thai in Thailand and in America), but for the sake of this article, I’ll stick with the food in general.

Mountainous American portions!

1. Portion Size

There’s a radical difference between American sized food portions and Thai sized food portions… and I had completely forgotten about it after staying in Bangkok for so long.

America loves HUGE.

It’s not that I eat less in Thailand, it’s just that the the portions are smaller so I order multiple plates of rice per meal. In Hawaii I ordered a plate of pad gra pao (lad khao – on top of rice) in Chinatown and it was a massive plate – double or even triple the size of a normal Bangkok street food portion.

2. Price

There’s no surprise at this one. Living expenses are naturally more expensive in America than in Thailand.

While in Thailand a normal plate of rice topped with a single dish and possibly a fried egg costs 30 – 40 THB ($1 – $1.30) and in America the same dish would probably run $7 – $10. However (as mentioned above) the portion size is 2 to 3 times larger.

Maybe I should have done a weight to price comparison?

3. Spring Rolls as Thai Food

Thai restaurants in America serve lots and lots of spring rolls – just like everyone in America must eat an egg roll with Chinese food, so Thai food is always served with a deep fried spring roll.

I think it’s because Americans like deep fried things (and Thai restaurant owners have figured this out).

Thailand does have deep fried spring rolls, but I could easily spend months in Thailand eating at only local street stall restaurants without ever touching spring rolls. In fact, I only know one food cart in Bangkok that even serves por pia tod on a regular basis.

4. Lots of Meat

America has long been famous as a large meat consuming nation, so it’s not surprising to find American Thai food is generous on the meat.

A normal dish in Thailand will come mixed with a little meat, but just a skimpy amount compared to the amount of chicken or pork served in a single Thai dish in America. The chicken in America is just bigger and the pork is just bulkier.

Thai amount of herb use

5. Skimp on the Herbs

Pad gra pao (stir fried holy basil) should be packed with basil. One thing I noticed is that Thai food in America is that meat is heavily prevalent, herbs are scarcer.

Not sure if this is due to the price of the herbs in America or because lots of herbs means lots more flavor, which could be unappealing to some consumers, maybe?

Nevertheless, the best source of the delicious repertoire of Thai ingredients is within Thailand itself.

Som Tam in Thailand and America

6. No Dried Shrimp

One of the fundamental ingredients in a good som tam (green papaya salad) is salty dried shrimp (goong haeng). Not only do the little guys provide extra flavor, but also extra saltiness and a little bit of a chewy texture.

After eating som tam twice in America I discovered that they don’t include dried shrimp in their recipes – not sure if it’s because it’s hard to get in America or again if it’s too different for most American crowds?

American Thai Green Curry
American Thai Green Curry

7. Flavor Level

Speaking honestly, Thai food in America is often bland and just about all Thais I know would put it into the “jued mak mak” category.

It’s not that all dishes are lacking completely in flavor, it’s just that some are lacking the proportionate amount of flavor – not hot enough, not sour enough, not rich enough, not herbaceous enough – all the pillar tastes combined into the authentic flavor of Thailand Thai food.

Note: I didn’t mention spicy chili level here because you can order things chili hot in America… same like you can in Thailand. However the mild is probably milder in America.

8. Not Sour Enough

While Thailand Thai food does have a range level of sourness, even ordering dishes less sour in Thailand will land you with a dish or soup that’s more sour than a sour dish in America.

Sourness is one of the pillars of Thai cuisine and it’s one that has been toned down a couple notches to cater to the American palate.

Green Curry in Bangkok
Green Curry in Bangkok

9. Sticky Rice Mix-Up

There are lots of things you may not know about eating Thai food until living and eating in Thailand. Along with learning Thai food etiquitte, there are a number of unwritten Thai eating rules.

For instance, in America it’s possible to eat a dish like green curry along with Thai sticky rice. This combination would be unheard of in Thailand. Green curry (gaeng keow wan) is eaten with steamed white rice. Som tam (green papaya salad) and other Isaan food dishes are often enjoyed with sticky rice.

This is just the surface. There are many many more differences between Thailand Thai food and American Thai food. As the awesome Thai food writer Pitchaya Sudbanthad explains, it’s all about learning to love Thai-American food.

“When I eat it, I know where I am,” says Sudbanthad.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment!

87 comments. I'd love to hear from you!

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  • Ivan

    1 month ago

    The best Thai food is only in USA ,one bowls of minestrone soup and slice of bread is more healthy then any Thai food

  • Gordon Ingram

    2 months ago

    One of the main reason for Thai dishes to be less herbaceous among the Thai restaurants outside of Thailand is simply the availability of fresh herbs and spices. Some restaurants are able to have fresh herbs shipped in from growers if they don’t have them available, which is expensive and added to the costs. The Thai restaurants in the temperate areas obviously have no excuse, but they do for various reasons beside having to adjust the recipes.

  • Kyle

    6 months ago

    I live in the L.A. area so there is a bit of choice for Thai food. I find that most restaurants serve pretty good thai food, but unfortunately only what is demanded by the customers. I know too many people that ONLY order pad thai and yellow curry. A local restaurant was run by a family that moved here from near the Lao border and would sometimes offer me food they made for themselves like dtam mak huhng. Once they gave served me ant eggs mixed with cooked greens. We would bring them things like fresh eggs from our chickens, mexican chiles and some unusual kinds of basil and the owner would use them in our food. Sadly she sold the business recently. I often prefer to eat at Cambodian resturants in my city (Long Beach) because they serve primarily Cambodian people and the menus are more diverse.

  • Steven

    7 months ago

    Mark Wiens is one guy I have massive respect for when it comes to Asian food. He knows his stuff having been all over the area. And if you haven’t seen it, Wiens also has a Youtube channel where he reviews all kinds of Asian restaurants and foods. Watch him do his famous “face” when he likes it!

  • Alexandra

    8 months ago

    I agree with everything you’ve said in your article Thailand Thai Food vs. American Thai Food. What you’ve described about American Thai Food unfortunately applies to Canadian Thai Food – even thought many Thai restaurants owners are Thai, they cater to “Canadian” tastes (as some of the restaurant owners explained), mixtures of flavours are not right, portions are huge… It is much better to cook Thai food at home :-)

  • ellie

    9 months ago

    I have thai friends coming to San Diego for a week.

    What do you think they would like to eat in California?

    Pizza, Lasagne, Mex food?

    • Mark Wiens

      9 months ago

      Hey Ellie, I think they are pretty open to trying anything… I know a lot of Thais enjoy Italian food, and my wife who is Thai also really likes Mexican food. I think they’ll enjoy whatever you decide!

      • Steven

        7 months ago

        A lot of people do not realize that country of Italy has asian ties. Geographically it was once part of Asia and it drifted over to Europe. That’s why you see a lot of asian influence in Italy. You tend to see more gold in Italian churches than other European and if you listen to Italian music and Chinese music, sometimes it sounds eerily similar. Italians love their noodles (spaghetti) and that’s an asian thing. None of the other European countries care for noodles, France, England, Russia, Germany, they are into other things. You look at asian countries like Japan, China, Vietnam, they are CRAZY for noodle dishes.

        • El Duderino

          3 weeks ago

          Did you sleep in history? Italy was geographically part of Asia? You mean when the earth only had one tectonical plate? (Gondwana) How many humans did exist during that time? I guess zero. Italian and Chinese music sounds similar? You must be kidding me. Yes, Italians love their noodles. So do we in Switzerland, Germany, France, … Ok, we don’t have that cultural background as the Italians do, but some families eat noodles here every day. Noodle came from China to Italy through trade!

  • Owen

    9 months ago

    I lived in Thailand for just under 3 years and this article is very accurate especially about the lack of herbs and someone in the comments also mentioned that it tends towards the sweet side. My wife is from Surin and currently works as a cook (she loves to cook and was very excited at the prospect of making money for her “average” cooking as she put it) at a Thai restaurant here in Houston. Her first week she picked apart their menu, remarking on all the things that weren’t Thai. Also as someone who has now spent some time in that scene I’ve noticed that most of the cooks at the majority of Thai restaurants in Houston aren’t Thai, most are from Laos. While the cuisines of western Laos and eastern Thailand are fairly similar, there are a lot of differences, plus factor in the fact that as I said above at least a quarter of the menu isn’t even Thai food and you’re going to get things that don’t equate to authentic Thai taste. My wife also won’t eat any of the curries from her own restaurant, because she says they taste awful and nothing like Thai food.

    Chicken Teriyaki isn’t an original Thai dish
    I’ve been told that Peanut Chicken is eaten in India and Indonesia, but rarely in Thailand and I certainly never saw it except in Bangkok being offered to tourists.
    Her restaurant serves fresh rolls, which she said come from China and again I didn’t see anything resembling them during my time in the eastern provinces.

    Also this didn’t really take into account the extremely large variety in the Thai cuisine, even Americans who have been to Bangkok on a holiday won’t encounter a great deal of the Thai cuisine. Especially in the poorer districts. You won’t be offered scorpion, roach, or cricket kebobs. You won’t see Chicken feet stew, deep fried rat, or rat steaks (very prevalent on the road from Bangkok to Buri-ram through the hills of Korat). You won’t be offered ant larvae which is an extremely popular dish in most of Thailand. I never even see Quit Deo (Thai version of chicken noodle soup) one of my favorites from Thailand in American Thai restaurants and rarely Yum Wooson. This could simply be that Houston doesn’t have many Thai people as other large cities, or that they think we in Houston wouldn’t eat the large majority of Thai food. They also in Houston tend not to use a lot of internal organs, which is certainly not the case from my experience in Thailand. In Thailand when Thai people cook for themselves, the majority of curries and soups tend to have slices of liver, heart, and various other internal organs in them (these typically don’t make an appearance in food served to farangs ((foreigners)). Just be aware that even the Thai food that you will eat in Thailand has been westernized for their perception of your taste buds. I remember that my wife and I would go to a street vendor and order the same exact thing and the guy would cook it completely differently for me, than he would for her and the same goes for the restaurants there.

    Also in regards to Pad Thai, my wife certainly rarely ate it and said that it was created to serve to tourists and wasn’t something that had been in the Thai cuisine for generations and she personally thinks it’s bad for you haha. Which is something else I noticed about Americans eating at Thai restaurants. There are tons of things on even the most un-authentic Thai restaurants in America that are really healthy and Americans tend to find the ones that are as unhealthy as cheese burgers and then go tell their friends they eat at Thai restaurants and are therefore healthy by association lol.

  • Noodleguy

    12 months ago

    I recently returned from a holiday in Thailand, where I ate a lot of amazing Thai food. I also have Thai food at home (in Australia) at least once a week – invariably Phat Si-Io (Pad See Ew) from my local Thai restaurant which is run by Thai people.

    I noticed a huge difference between the flat rice noodles used in Australia and those used in Thailand. The ones used in Thailand are much softer and bouncier (they seem to jiggle when you pick them up with a fork) and MUCH nicer. Has anyone else noticed this difference between flat rice noodles used in Thailand and flat rice noodles used at Thai restaurants in other countries? Can anyone explain why there is such a big difference in noodle texture?

    • Mark Wiens

      12 months ago

      Great to hear from you, thank you very much for sharing this difference. I’m really not sure, as I’ve never been to Australia, but hopefully someone who reads this can help us. Thanks!

  • MinBCrafter

    1 year ago

    I am a native thai and i eat thai food and its always great (i mean i eat thai food everyday) and most older thai people will say that Thai food tastes and have more spice to American Food because they are so used to the Spicyness of thai food that they say that american food is not good and tastes not great,However new generations of kids in thailand says that Japanese food tastes good

  • Ben

    1 year ago

    I’m Thai-American and my parents use to own a restaurant in suburban Orange County. This list is pretty spot on, although not all apply to my parents’ restaurant. The portions were bigger, definitely more meat but we had dried shrimps in our som tam and we didn’t serve sticky rice.

    I hate to admit this but since my parents took over an existing Thai-Chinese restaurant, we had to serve Chinese food (more like Chinese-American to be honest) since it was already on the menu and customers were use to it.

    My mom and dad strived to make it a little more authentic little by little but we had to be careful not to alienate our customer base which consisted of basically non-Thai people for the most part. Still, little by little, people started asking for prik nam pla with their krapao dish or sugar/nampla/prik pon/vinegar chili caddy that Thai people love so much with their noodle soups.

    I live in Tokyo now and have tried many Thai restaurants here — the vast majority cater to the Japanese palate which surprisingly isn’t too different from American tastes — tom yung is not as sour, the pad Thai is a little bland on the spice, etc. Green curry, kra pao and gao man kai are VERY popular here.

    In the end though, I think it’s a balance game for ethnic food abroad — cater to the local tastes without compromising too much authenticity and make it authentic enough so that it can still be called Thai food.

    • Mark Wiens

      1 year ago

      Hey Ben, great to hear from you, thank you very much for sharing your expertise on this. Very interesting about Japan as well. Hope you’re doing well, thanks!

  • Chris

    1 year ago

    I’ve occasionally had some disappointing Thai food here in the states however that should not discourage anybody because there are also some outstanding places to be found as well & they are often pretty low-key. Businesses do have to cater to what the locals prefer if they want to stay around. In Thailand nearly everywhere you find 3 or 4 styles of chile at the table along with chopped peanuts as condiments. I look for that, & you rarely see that in the states. Fish sauce is often missing too. Main significance I’ve noticed though is just that in Thailand the ingredients tend to be fresher. Coconut milk for a dish is most likely to be from a can in the USA,just one example.

  • rose

    1 year ago

    Having worked at a Thai restaurant, I noticed a lot of customers are requesting for gluten free and vegetarian dishes and always requesting for no fish sauce. It definitely compromised the dishes. Another is that Americans like everything on the sweeter side vs the norm of sweet sour salty spicy and they want everything with extra sauces even though it’s not traditional saucy for stir fries. And when you tell them there’s dried shrimp in papaya salad, that’s the first thing they request be left out. Basil is also very expensive but even when we use a lot, customers will just pick them out. I’ve had customers replace basil with mint for pad gra pow. Go figure. Lol

    • Mark Wiens

      1 year ago

      Hey Rose, thank you for sharing your experience, wow! I’m just glad there’s starting to be a growth of more authentic Thai restaurants in the US, that won’t compromise the authentic taste.

  • Rock

    1 year ago

    Wow never knew Lers Ros is popular among those comments. I think food there is pretty ok but overpriced and portion isnt generous as normal Ameticanized Thai. LA is where best thai food is, back to Thailand now and discovered Thai food isnt good like it was before! Believe me if you were at the right Thai place in US, they do their job pretty much more than ubiquitous Thai food stall in Thailand!! I think thai food in Honolulu’s Chinatown is slightly better than average normal Thai place but if you are white, the cook always lowers level of taste becuz they didnt want guest return their food due to they cant bear too tasty flavor. In thsiland they seldom accept return in everything but they cant do that. If you don’t like it just leave it but in US you can make a return if you just dont like it.

  • Papangfoon

    1 year ago

    That all above are exactly true. I went to the United States and I miss Thai food so bad. I found some Thai reataurant, it’s much different between there and Thailand. The taste of American Thai food is too sweet and not spicy at all. I really love traditional Thai food.

  • Pussadee

    1 year ago

    I’m Thai. And I want to confirm that the writer understand right about Thailand Thai food!

    Love the article, Keep doing what you do !

  • Adelia Sindunata

    1 year ago

    I don’t know why, but at least the Thai food in US is better than the ones in Indonesia. Before I live here in US, I was a Thai food hater. It doesn’t taste right at all. I thought all Thai food is just equally bad until I tried the authentic ones. Turns out that it’s just the ones in Indonesia that is really bad, and the weird thing is Indonesia is really close to Thailand. Sigh.

    • Mark Wiens

      1 year ago

      Hey Adelia, so sorry to hear that, and thank you for sharing. Hopefully there will start to be more authentic Thai restaurants in Indonesia in the future.

  • Robert

    2 years ago

    From Ontario, Canada… and like the U.S…..Pad Thai in Canada is more heavy with oil…not light and dryer like in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Som Tam is not as good in the U.S. or Canada.

    Khanom Sen is not good here… if you can even find it. They aren’t about to add coagulated chicken blood probably… dark brownish/pinkish cubes of coagulated blood does not seem to appeal to western tastes, but I certainly got used to it in the time I was in Thailand..

    Khao Soi..(Chiang Mai Noodles) is not bad depending on which western Thai restaurant you go to…. but taste is just not very Thai…

    Thai restaurants in the U.S. and Canada are heavy on the oil for some reason… and don’t use the same ingredients..

    I wasn’t in Thailand for years…. only four months. But I fell in love with Thai food in Chiang Mai. Both in restaurants and also the wonderful sweet food. Dropped almost 25 lbs. and I wasn’t even dieting. Smaller portions.. less meat, eating perhaps five little portions through the day loaded with fresh vegetables and fruit. Good for my health. Can’t wait to go back.

    Why we spoil Thai food here in the west is beyond me. Just stupid.

    • Mark Wiens

      2 years ago

      Hey Robert, thank you very much for sharing your thoughts, and glad you love Thai food so much as well. The good news is, I think more and more people appreciate the authentic Thai food taste and I think there is a rise in restaurants in the US / Canada that are serving authentic Thai food (such as Pok Pok). But still, nothing like eating Thai food in Thailand. Hope you can come back again soon for some more delicious food!

  • Teo Namjai

    2 years ago

    I’d be crazy not to agree that Thai food like all cuisine in the USA undergoes a transformation.

    The best example being Italian food, the biggest difference between American and traditional Italian is how long you will NOT live if you ate it every day. I would tend to say that Thai food has not been destroyed by Uncle Sam nearly as much.

    I’m no novice in the Kitch ether… I make my own “sen yai” noodles at home and have given them to thai nationals here in Kona who tell me that they are better than they have ever had even back home…

    So… I’d like to defend the American Diner…

    At least WE are generally willing to try other foods… Most Thai people I know well including three Thai restaurant owners are not nearly as willing to try anything outside of there comfort zone. We may modify things a bit to suit our own taste, but so what… every backyard griller thinks there interpretation of the cheese burger is the best..

    So I never can understand why taking what we like from other cultures and tweaking it to better suit our taste is looked at so negatively… where do you think Worcestershire sauce came from?

    I note in Thailand that they do have Pizza restaurants, at least in the major Malls, and most Thais who eat Pizza there drown it in Ketchup… So do I criticize them Heck NO! I tried it and I liked it…

    Frankly there is a Thai place here in Kailua Kona that claims to be the real deal Phuket style food No monkeying around… Every time I eat there I tend to like it less than another place here that the Phuket people are always critical of saying the it is more Bankok style and that is more suited to US palets.

    What I guess I’m trying to say is that your “Nine major differences” rant sounds like an I hate America and Americans and all they do is ruin everything speech.

    So If I want red wine with fish and white wine with beef, or sweet meaty Thai food in monster portions and you don’t then there is no hate required.

    • Mark Wiens

      2 years ago

      Hello Teo, good to hear from you, thank you for your thoughts. I agree that adapting to different tastes and trying different ingredients in recipes is fine. This article is not meant to undermine anyone or any culture or any kind of food combinations, it’s just observations of eating Thai food in Thailand as opposed to eating Thai food in the US.

  • Nino

    2 years ago

    always hungry when I think about Isaan food
    oh noo..

  • Roderick Borcherding

    2 years ago

    One thing I have noticed about Thai food here in Seattle, especially with regards to stir fries, is they like to throw every random vegetable in the book into them. Here is a sample of what I’m talking about: from a popular Thai restaurant called “Rom Mai Thai” their “Cashew” stir fry, Stir fried cashew nuts, mushrooms, onions, baby corns, bell peppers, cabbages, broccoli, celery and carrots in brown sauce.

    It might be yummy to some, but it’s not very authentic as I’ve found most Thai food concentrates on having 1-3 or so veggies per dish as to not overcomplicate the flavor and make each dish more unique. Pretty much every stir fry at this place has virtually the same hodge podge of random veggies in it.

    • Mark Wiens

      2 years ago

      Good observation Roderick, that’s a good one. Yes, in Thailand they usually have a set standard of vegetables in certain dishes, and other than regional differences, it’s usually quite known which vegetables go with which dishes.

  • Roderick Borcherding

    2 years ago

    Mark, I would love it if you made another page like this. Maybe title “9 more major differences between Thailand Thai food and American Thai food”. I found that after eating authentic Thai food, I just can’t go back to eating American Thai food :( It’s just not the same at all.

    • Mark Wiens

      2 years ago

      Thanks Roderick, sounds like a good idea, I maybe either update, or include more!

  • Nancy

    2 years ago

    Have enjoyed reading this thread. My husband and I just came back from lunch at a Thai place that opened recently here in SW Florida, and found once again that what we ordered (Seven Sien noodle and Massaman curry) was WAY too sweet. We do not pretend to be knowledgeable about authentic Thai cuisine, never having visited Thailand, (nor have we been fortunate enough to eat in Thai restaurants in L.A. or S.F.) but we have eaten in a fair number of Thai restaurants both here and in the northeast US. Sweetness is just about always a problem regardless of the variety and quality of other ingredients and flavorings. I totally understand how some sweetness enhances other flavors (just as salt enhances the taste of caramel or chocolate for instance), but surely not every American diner expects what amounts to dessert as an entrée? In short: the more Thai restaurants in the states serve overly-sweet food, the more American diners (some of whom have perhaps never sampled Thai cuisine before) will come to expect just that. Too bad for the rest of us, either knowledgeable consumers of authentic Thai food, or folks like my husband and me, experienced in some cuisines and eager to try others, but constantly discouraged by the claim that “this is what American customers want.” Some compromise is bound to be necessary, clearly, but dumping sugar in every dish surely is not indispensable.

    • Mark Wiens

      2 years ago

      Hi Nancy, thank you very much for reading this post and for your comment. Great thoughts there, and that’s definitely one of the biggest problems with Thai food at restaurants overseas. Definitely some dishes are supposed to be sweet or enhanced with sweetness, but they often way overdue it. Hope you can visit Thailand in the future, I know you will enjoy the food here!

  • Jonathan

    2 years ago

    I generally agree with the conclusion of the article, but comparing the Thai food in Hawaii with Thailand and then saying that all American Thai food is just like Hawaiian Thai food is a stretch. Food quality and tastes (and access to ingredients) in America vary widely from state to state and city to city, so a large enough sample representative for many or all states & major cities must be taken into account before drawing a conclusion that covers all of the USA. All you can truthfully say from the content of this article is that Hawaiian Thai food is different than Thai food in Thailand.

  • Nui Nopphachaya

    2 years ago

    I think, it’s very difficult to find authentic taste of Thai foods outside Thailand. Not only in USA but the other countries too.

    I agree with you in the fact that some kind of fresh ingredients are way too difficult to get or you might get it but not really in a good condition or good quality.
    (Sometime, I was craving for some Thai desserts that need to add fresh/dried shredded young coconut meat, fresh coconut water, pandan leaves or even aroma candle and I was unable to find them, so I end up using sterilized coconut water/meat/milk from the can or package…some brands gave horrible taste and smell)

    For the side of business, the preferences of customers could be concerned as one of the major factors of lacking in the authentic taste, smell and even presentation.
    I’m an expat, working as cabin crew in middle-east. In my journey log, I found only a few of Thai restaurants all over the world that I could be able to request the original Thai taste and I really got it.

    My solution is whenever I got a chance to go back home in Bangkok, I just kind of stuffed the whole Thai grocery in my luggage and cook it myself!! :-))

    • Mark Wiens

      2 years ago

      Hi Nui, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, I agree. And great answer… when we need some authentic Thai food, we’ve got to just come back to Thailand. Hope you’re doing well.

  • Lisa Hirsch

    2 years ago

    Herbs such as basil are easy to find and not expensive in the US. Also, I’ve been cooking with dried shrimps since the 1970s – easy to find in any city with Asian food stores. Mine usually come from Oakland Chinatown.

    Would love to taste more typical Thai food!

  • Larry Hill

    3 years ago

    Mark, if you’re ever back in the States and want to eat real Thai food I find the best place to go on Sundays or during events when they have them are Thai temples. They usually sell tons of food and often ingredients to make your own. And the prices are way cheap. At my Thai temple back home – the one my mother goes to rather – I can get a huge plate of Thai style fried chicken, papaya salad and sticky rice for less than a McDonald’s value meal.

    • Mark Wiens

      3 years ago

      Cool, thanks for the tip Larry!

      • Scott Lucas

        3 years ago

        Dear Mark,
        We are a small Thai company looking to expand our client base in the UK, US and Europe.What we will be offering is 100% localy handmade Thai curry pastes,we are currently sourcing the best of these from our location of Krabi in southern Thailand.We aim to offer these curry pastes in the following types: Green curry, Massaman curry, Penang curry, Red curry, Southern curry ,Southern Hot & sour, Yellow curry and Tom Yum Paste.We can also obtain Shrimp paste for use with some of these pastes.Selling by the Kilogram or half Kilo we are looking for Thai restaurants or suppliers that would be interested in trying these world class authentic pastes and hopefully create a regular supply chain,building a reliable and successful business partnership with our overseas clients.
        We are making a list of Thai restaurants and suppliers that would want to try these pastes and will be sending 50g samples of each type to the restaurants and suppliers that are interested in trying out the pastes.
        We can be contacted via twitter @Thaicurrypastes.
        Please don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions you may have and also if there are any other items that you feel we could be of help in locating for you on a regular basis.All we need is your address to send the free trial pastes.
        Thank you for your attention in this matter, we look forward to hearing from you soon
        Kind Regards,,Scott and Som

  • Dan

    3 years ago

    Yeah agree with everything in this post. I would never eat Thai food in the UK, it just feels like a complete rip off, aside from the fact even the award winning restaurants outside of Thailand just aren’t really close to the real thing. I think it is a perceived lack of demand by the restaurant managers, rather than a lack of ingredients, that is the cause for the difference in tastes. This can be seen in pretty much all international cuisines in the UK. The reverse is also true, Western in food in Thailand being pretty poor oweing to the Thai tendency to add sugar to western dishes to combat the relative blandness compared to Thai dishes.

    It’s true as well, spring rolls are not popular here, and ‘Prawn Crackers’ are almost unheard of (offhand can only think of one shop that sells them in my town Ubon Ratchathani).

    Any authentic Thai restaurant outside of Thailand would probably be a commercial failure…

  • Petchpen

    3 years ago

    That’s right!!! I Thai, and I can say that Thai food is the best for me! Next time you should try “Larb Moo Tord”. It’s A Northeast of Thailand’s food. Like, fried pork spicy salad, something like that ( i don’t know how to explain) but that’s reallllllllly good

    Btw// welcome back anytime ;; Thai girl

  • poe

    3 years ago

    As a Thai restaurant owner and chef in NY, try as I might, I just cant seem to sell REAL Thai food. Sure, i cook it as home at family functions, but at the restaurant, no. For one thing, there is the issue of allergies and spice levels. A lot of customers have gluten and shellfish allergies. So the dried shrimp is out of the papaya salad. Kang som is out. I had supe nor mai on the menu, and most could not eat it bc it tasted funky. I did manage to sneak in moo krob, crispy fried pork belly with nam prig noom ( which includes pla ra!! of all things) Its a huge seller, bc pork belly is all the rage now, but when i see the dish come back, there’s a load of nam prig noom left over! Its really frustrating as a chef when i try to present the foods i was brought up on, and it has to be changed!! No soy, no fish sauce, no peanuts, no shellfish, etc. etc. As for fresh herbs, they are at a premium. The only fresh herbs we use are home grown mint, cilantro(bought) basil(bought) and lemongrass. Our kaffir lime tree doesnt yield enough leaves (yet) so that is used sparingly, only in soups. I wont even put it in the panang curry, bc customers ask to leave it out. very disheartening. But i do put it into my pla lad prig though, but like i said, very sparingly. so, am i a sell out? yes. to a certain extent. Some dishes i refuse to change. I ask them to pick something else. am i profitable? yes. because the bottom line is the american $$. thanks for hearing me out.

    • Mark Wiens

      3 years ago

      Hey Poe, thank you so much for sharing your insights as a Thai chef, very interesting. I fully understand what you’re saying. Good luck with your restaurant and if we’re ever in NYC, would love to stop by!

    • Gtm

      3 years ago

      I am not Thai, but an Indian who used to cook at a Thai-Chinese restaurant owned by a Laotian. Naturally, sticky rice accompanied everything as the default rice (!!) and the customers felt very “authentic”, scooping it out of the little baskets!

      Papaya som tam: the Lao use pla la/ladek, which comes in food service buckets of muddy liquid. Customers would ALWAYS order the “real” thing and invariably, plates would come back untouched! Why? That pla la, ladled out in happy measures, and the failure of Americans, as also in Indian restaurants, to recognize that the som tam is NOT a salad per se but a raw dish to be eaten with rice: a rice-sending dish, as the Chinese term such things. That pla la and vegetable juice puddling in a dark pool is the gravy and the vegetables are the solid portion and the whole itself is a complete meal with rice, where another meat or dry-cooked fish are tasty nibbles at best.

      Dry shrimp of good quality are VERY expensive in the USA [$4-5 for 3.5 oz retail], and affect the bottom line, when the customer believes in getting out by paying less than $10/head, indeed $8 + tax being more usual for a dinner entree.

      In the northeast US, we need to buy cilantro from food service people, fresh limes, Thai lime leaves [VERY expensive and not that flavorful as the ones in India or Thailand], krachai, galangal, VERY expensive shallots, you name it. Even peanuts and lettuce is expensive, flowering kale and Chinese greens, Thai chillies, coconut milk of good quality, every little thing cuts into the bottom line and SO much is wasted on the table and cannot be resused. What a terrible cultural tendency there is of not finishing food and not eating garnishes and such. Whole fish with Chu Chee sauce, and practically 1/3 of the fish comes back with perfectly good edible parts, especially around the head uneaten. Going to restaurants is a game, and not a reason to eat food or satisfy hunger.

      That is why we started a policy of measuring out in aluminum pie plates portions of stuff Americans will eat: carrots, mushroom, bell pepper, a couple of other vegetables if cheap, add 4-5 cubes of par-cooked chicken or protein and a big dab of processed curry paste and hold in cooler in rows: red, green, yellow, magenta, purple, whatever is the color du jour! As orders fly in, oil, our special secret magic mix that I am never supposed to reveal although it is so childish, in with the pie plate, up the gas, one ladle of our magic broth, msg, sugar, fish sauce, coconut milk, a couple of leaves of basil and your colorful curry is done, $7.95, and everyone and their date is delirious with joy. You cannot deviate from this formula, cannot serve authentic Lao food, authentic Indian food, anything but what people like. Can you guess HOW much sugar, salth and oil their is in each plate of Thai curry? Mark, if I told you, you would never eat in an American Thai restaurant again. A Chu Chee curry, instead of being thick and piquant, runs over and drips on to the table cloth, because buying bigger serving plates also costs money. Remember that $7.95-12.95 price point?

      Do you have Rama noodles in Thailand? They are such amazing sellers here, peanut butter cut with coconut milk and some stock, and whatever else the cook feels like that day. Stir fried vegetables with a funny brown sauce neither Thai nor Chinese, but having enough broccoli and carrots to make diners feel “virtuous” after all that coconut milk, and allowing the vegans something to feel superior about, as they look with horrified disdain to the orgy going on around them! You need to understand all the psychological dynamics happening in an American Thai restaurant, as much as the ones around the extended family Thanksgiving party because a restaurant NEVER succeeds on just the food it serves. Servers need to be alert to first dates, and those on assignations. Also, to many special needs which are freely expressed in the US. You completely misunderstand the MANY MANY different purposes a Thai restaurant serves in this complex society, only one of them being the production of Thai food. A restaurant is a social place fulfilling a very difficult set of needs in this hard and difficult society, and a successful owner catches all the vibes in his corner of the world and makes people at home and very welcome. That is his function, and not making his critics or reviewers happy.

      Even the cook at BOH have their hands full managing staff for mundane duties like prep work, stocking and so forth, and reliable labor is so very difficult to find, and just the task of getting a kitchen cleaned up after midnight is more hassle than you can imagine. All of these practical realities intrude upon life. I enjoyed my time very much, and the sense of camaraderie and craziness, all of it.

  • Kevin Cook

    4 years ago

    You make a good point about the portion size. In Thailand, at the end of the day, you’re spending 1/7 – 1/10 of the cost of a thai meal in America. But the portion size in America is twice the size. So it really boils down to about 1/4 of the cost. But still, that’s 4x the value! I’ll take those numbers any day over imitation Thai food in America.

    You should write a post about the difference between Thai American food and USA American food. But then that really wouldn’t be ‘eatingthaifood’!

    • Mark Wiens

      4 years ago

      Thanks Kevin! That’s a good idea for an article. Do you have a place you get good American food in Bangkok?

  • Sharin

    4 years ago

    When you wrote about not seeing any except 1 single spring roll vendor…where are you talking about? My husband and I lived in BKK for the last two years and it was about 1-2 times a week we stopped by our egg roll woman at her cart on busy Sukhumvit. Just up from there, I would get som tam gep moo 2 times a week and they don’t serve sticky rice or streamed rice with som tam…
    Curious to know where you lived to say what you did in your post.

    • Dwight Turner

      4 years ago

      Hi Sharin thanks for the message. Both Mark and I have lived all over Bangkok. So we’re pretty sure that while you can get deep fried rolls in a few places— it’s not the norm. Actually if you search around we’ve written about a few of those places with great poh pia. When they do exist, they tend to be in more touristy areas like sukhumvit and khao san. There are also vendors on Suk doing sum tum who get most of their business from to go traffic and may not serve rice. However, most people take it home and still eat it with rice and any vendor with a good setup will always be ready to serve rice with their dishes. Anyway, the things mentioned in this article are about the general trends of what you find in the US versus Thailand. As there are also places in the US with sticky rice and who are doing awesome Thai food. Let us know if you have any more questions!

  • Hank

    4 years ago


  • CXC

    4 years ago

    Thai food in Houston is fairly americanized. However, there’s one restaurant downtown that does the American Thai but has a soup on the menu that’s to die for, Sour and fishy goodness.

    • Mark Wiens

      4 years ago

      Hey, great to hear that, sour and fishy is a great combination!

  • Steve

    4 years ago

    Nice article, I agree on the differences and have struggled to find any decent Thai food in the US. I have lived in many countries and found that the Thai food is usually average at best, but in the US I actually find some of it to be inedible, so far removed from what I have in Thailand that I’m not sure you could call it Thai.

    In Australia, where I currently live, the Thai food is generally a bit similar to Thailand except that it tends to be sweeter and less spicy. Luckily we have a few places that do make authentic Thai food, especially in Sydney and Melbourne, and I think the larger number of people holidaying in Thailand means more people do want the authentic tastes. We also do have a lot of very poor Thai places and Chinese/Vietnamese run places that seem to want to be trading off Thai food because it commands a higher price than their cuisines.

    In the UK I found it similar to Australia, except the UK Thai food never had some of the freshness that we have over here. Much of this will be down to the fact that herbs, vegetable used all have to be imported and I do think they lose flavour being transported. I think this is probably one of the big reasons food in Thailand tastes better too, most of the food will be fresh and grown locally.

    Europe was very poor, I’d put this down to lack of ingredients or demand from local Thai communities. Quite often the sort of place you see in Europe is someone who has brought a Thai wife back and bought a restaurant for her, without her being a proper Thai chef so naturally the food is poor.

    As a frequent traveller to the US, particularly LA, I was especially disappointed in Thai Town though, I could not find any place decent and the ones that had good ratings were actually awful. Much of the famous Thai smile seemed to have disappeared too in those restaurants.

  • Victoria

    4 years ago

    Hi, I just returned from my trip to Thailand. Yes, you are right. The portions served in Bangkok are 1/3 the size of what they serve in USA. But then, consider the price which is relative to the portion served. I noticed that the food portion is even smaller in Phuket. They were more the size of appetizers. This works out great because it gives you the opportunity to try a variety of foods. Besides, if you should find the food not cooked according to your taste buds, at least you don’t have a mountain to finish off….esp. since one really should not waste food. So far, we never did encounter that problem.

    Have enjoyed reading your posts. Yaowarat is a very large Chinatown. Which part were you in? Sampeng area? Phahurat area? How recently did you take the videos?

    • Mark Wiens

      4 years ago

      Hi Victoria, thank you for the comment. I agree, the smaller portion sizes in Thailand area a good thing. It depends on the video, but many of them have been filmed within the last year. The Yaowarat video was just a few months ago as was the main 25 things to do in Bangkok video. Thanks for you support!

  • tak in bKK

    5 years ago

    what is jued mak mak? googled it but no help…

  • The Mistress of Spices

    5 years ago

    You should check out the Thai food in France (where I lived before)…with one or two exceptions, it ‘s really, really sad! Often it’s just Chinese masquerading as Thai. Luckily I live in Thailand now :-)

    • Mark Wiens

      5 years ago

      Hmm, yah, is Thai food popular in France like it is in the USA? Glad to hear you can now enjoy Thai food in Thailand!

  • Suthanya

    5 years ago

    I have to agree with the Tom Yum… I have never had it in a restaurant as good as my Thai mom cooks it at home (in her US kitchen) so a Thai restaurant should be able to make it a little more authentic if she still can! I worked in Thai restaurant in PA, the other thing I noticed about the Som Tam, they didn’t prepare it in the mortar in pestle like my mom does or like they do in Thailand. One restaurant we went to made Pad Thai with ketchup!!! And US Pad Thai is usually soupy instead dry like you find in Thailand.

    • Mark Wiens

      5 years ago

      Thanks for this extra information Suthanya. It’s great to hear your perspective as a Thai living in the US. Mmmm… pad thai made with ketchup… doesn’t sound so good!

  • Olarn

    5 years ago

    Best of the Best Thai food are more differrent tasty. Just not only spicy dish also many herbs good for health such as some food can be anti cancer.Decorate dish is very wonderful like carving some veg. or fruits. Awesome >>>>>

  • Lauren, Ephemerratic

    5 years ago

    After I traveled to Thailand (and Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam had something to do with it too), I made a huge change to how I cook Thai food at home — I stocked up on a few essentials. Dried shrimp (as you mentioned) dried radish, palm sugar, and fish sauce in large quantities.

    We’re lucky here in San Francisco. Lers Ros Thai restaurant opened and they make dishes that seem (to my limited experience, at least) very authentic. It’s the only Thai restaurant in San Francisco I bother with when I’m in charge of choosing.

  • Mark Wiens

    5 years ago

    Thanks for the message Chris and really cool to read about your observations from the UK. Interesting that “som tam” just recently began making it to menus – I wonder if that’s the same in the US?

    I can’t wait until we start seeing “pad phet gob” on the menus in Europe and the States!

  • Chris Wotton

    5 years ago

    All so true. I’m not sure we have it quite so bad in the UK – I find that Thai food here is truer to Thai food in Thailand than say our Chinese food is to ‘true’ Chinese cuisine (not that I’ve been!) – but there is a great deal of variation between food quality and, at the worse places, I would say pretty much all of these ring true.

    Glad you mentioned the sticky rice conundrum as, though it’s very true, it’s the only one of these differences that didn’t spring to mind when I saw the title of your post. Again, I think it’s less prevalent here as dishes are generally sold without rice, which is ordered separately (steamed or sticky as per the customer’s possibly ill-informed wishes) but what I do find is that supposed food writers suggest dishes in magazines etc which comprise curries, stir fries etc and sticky rice. Just makes you wonder whether some of these people have ever travelled to the source of their dishes. (And don’t get me started on the Philadelphia advert which recommends making green curry with Philly cheese – and not a hint of coconut!)

    On the ingredients front, sure some ingredients are harder to come by, but just about everything – dried shrimps, pla rah, horapa, krapao, baby and pea aubergines etc) can be sourced if the restaurant owner is worth their salt and knows where to look. I agree that, far more than a procurement issue, it’s a case of catering to dumbed down tastes. Interestingly, I have found som tum has only really begun to make an appearance on menus in the last couple of years – it was difficult to find (or at least done well) before that. The UK suffers the spice problem (or lack of it) probably more than the US, too – dishes can be bland and underspiced unless you make a point of asking for them otherwise.

    A long time until we see dishes more typical of everyday Thai eating habits on menus over here rather than just generic red and green curries and pad thai, I suspect – and even longer until we see more ‘daring’ dishes like kung che nam pla, pad phet gob etc etc. Great article – thanks.

    • Dwight Turner

      5 years ago

      Thanks Chris for such a thoughtful comment and for giving us a perspective from the UK!

  • ShrinkTheGlobe

    5 years ago

    The tom yum goong in America is never sour enough. I’ve never had good tom yum goong outside of Thailand.

  • JL

    5 years ago

    Sure, there’s lots of terrible Thai food in the United States.

    But there is also some terrific, wholly authentic Thai food to be found here, especially in cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City (particularly in Queens), and even Portland, OR. Specifically, I’d encourage you to check out Lers Ros in SF, Ganda in LA, Ayada and Zabb Elee in NYC, and Pok Pok in Portland.

    Re #6: dried shrimp are cheap and easy to find in the US. Every halfway decent Asian grocery stocks them. So if you’re not seeing them in Thai restaurants here, it’s likely because the owners believe US diners are afraid of fishy flavors. Too bad. The restaurants I mentioned above all use dried shrimp, as well as all the other typical authentic ingredients (holy basil, galangal, etc.).

    Finally, one of the main problems I find with Americanized Thai food is that it’s far too sweet. At the worst joints, every dish is overloaded with sugar (and not even palm sugar!).

    • Dwight Turner

      5 years ago

      Agreed! Love to see restaurants still being innovative with the cuisine, but the far majority have their hands tied somewhere between what sells and what ingredients are available. Honestly, we believe this is partly due to so few patrons knowing how diverse the cuisine is, something we’d love to see changed!

      Very true about fishy and sweet tastes, thanks for contributing.

    • Mark Wiens

      5 years ago

      Thanks for all the added input JL! Yah, I did also notice that quite a bit of the Thai dishes I samples in the States were quite sweet as well.

    • Apirada

      5 years ago

      Completely agree! I love Lers Ros in San Francisco. I have lived in the States for over 16 years and in my opinion the closest to Thai food at home.

      • Dwight Turner

        5 years ago

        Thanks Lauren and Apirida, we’ll have to check them out next time we hit SF!

    • Bruce

      5 years ago

      I totally agree with JL on Pok Pok and Zaab Elee (if you can, go to the Queens branch over the Manhattan branch). In fact, my favorite Thai restaurant in the world is Zaab Elee.

      • Dwight Turner

        5 years ago

        Thanks Bruce! There’s more great Thai food in the US that isn’t as well publicized.